Following a lengthy break from stand-up, Deirdre O’Kane has been tickling the nation’s funny bone again, and falling back in love with making us laugh, writes Esther McCarthy.
The woman who started her path as a stand-up comic before building an acting career is back on the road - and she hadn’t realised until she returned to the stand-up stage just how much she’d missed it.
It’s been busy in the interim - having bagged roles in movies like Noble and hit TV series Moone Boy, she spent months combining her quick wit with her quickstep on Dancing With the Stars on our tellys on Sunday nights.
Going on tour for the first time in nine years has been a revelation - why ever did she stop? “Small babies,” she says, simply. “Honestly, it wasn't my instinct to go out to work at night when my kids were tiny. I just couldn't face it.
“I kind of regret that I didn't keep my hand in a little bit more but I kept my hand in with acting and I was lucky that I had things like Moone Boy so I was able to keep myself present and not disappear completely. But in terms of stand-up, I just didn't feel it. Organically, I just wasn't there.”
Next month, she will take to the stage for the final date of her hit A Line Of O’Kane Tour, which has brought her to almost every nook and cranny of Ireland, and reminded her in the best of ways why she, her filmmaker husband Stephen Bradley and their kids decided to come home after a decade living in the UK.
While most stand-ups would be understandably content to walk away from a show after 18 months, O’Kane admits she’s quite wistful at the prospect. “I actually wish my tour was longer. I don't want to say goodbye to this tour. Usually by the end of a tour I'm like: ‘I don't want to do that show again’, but I don't feel like that this time.”
She’s already started writing material for her next stand-up project - a new comedy series which has just been announced by Sky. Sky One has commissioned Irish production company Kite Entertainment to make the show, fronted by O’Kane, with the working title Deirdre O’Kane: Live From Dublin.
She has an established relationship with Kite, doing voiceover work for Gogglebox Ireland, which the company also produces. The show will feature top comics performing live stand-up, with a couple of twists, in front of a live audience, and she is very excited at the prospect.
“We'll be shooting it in The Olympia, oh man I can't wait. It's a big deal. We are really delighted that it's happening. It shoots in April, but I've started working on it, I've started writing. It's a stand-up show, it's going to be A-list comics with stalwart comics.
“We'll have a house band. And I'll be hosting it, in my element. So I hope that we get to use as many as possible and give people a chance. Sky has got a massive viewership in Ireland. I think for them it's that they're being loyal to a clientele.”
We meet as part of her work to promote Age-Related Macular Degeneration awareness week, encouraging people, particularly those over 50, to undergo regular eye checks. (AMD) is the number one cause of sight loss in Ireland for those aged over 50.
More than 100,000 people in Ireland aged over 50 are living with AMD and the earlier AMD is detected, the sooner it can be treated to reduce its progression. It’s something that’s close to home for her, as her own mum-in-law was diagnosed with AMD during a routine eye test.
“She's had treatment and she's doing very well. She's been lucky. But she had a random eye test. She hadn't noticed anything. You hit 50 and you don't think anything of it, but things like your eyesight deteriorate rapidly.”
O’Kane, who turned 50 early last year, says she has become more disciplined in her comedy, and has never been busier. It’s not something she takes for granted in what is a challenging industry, and she says she feels for many of her younger peers, who’ve had to go abroad to make a living.
“The scene has certainly changed in that I've noticed that many of the young comics have had to go to the UK. The club scene has kind of gone, the recession killed it.
“I'm really sad to see them have to go to London to make their way. They've got no choice if they want to pursue this, whereas when I started it was a very healthy comedy club scene. You really were able to tour it and I was able to make my way here. We need another panel show on the telly, things like that. As a platform they're kind of gone.
There used to be a healthy comedy club in nearly every town in the country. Most of them are gone.” Another big change she’s noticed on returning is the growth in online comics who are sharing their material with audiences digitally.
“That's a plus because that's new. So you can make your own way, if you're young enough and you know all that works.”
It was Jake Carter who was eventually the winner of Dancing With the Stars, but being a finalist on the top-rating show was definitely a personal highlight and a career boost for her. Having initially turned down the show, she realised it was the wrong call and put on her dancing shoes, realising it was too good an opportunity to miss.
“I'm sure there's no doubt there's people who watched me and hated me in it but I think most people responded well. In terms of the fact that I had just moved back to Ireland I couldn't have had more useful to tool to say: ‘I am back’.
“Now it's always a gamble because you might not come out of these things well, you don't know if you're going to come across well. Reality television is brutal. I mean, you're so exposed, people will just judge you, and that's it.
"And there's nowhere to hide. But the gamble paid off.” Travelling the country with her stand-up - which features lots of DWTS anecdotes - has underlined to her the great affection people have for it.
For O’Kane, telling personal stories to audiences is part of her DNA - she says she wouldn’t know how to do stand-up any other way.
“Your comedy evolves with you, they’re one and the same thing,” she said of her approach. “I'm a very personal comic. I talk about what's going on in my life. Lots of other comics don't. They talk about the economy. They talk about whatever. I'm very personal.
"I've got teenagers, I'm talking about that, I’ve turned 50, I'm talking about that. That's just the way I am. My work goes with me.” You get the sense that she’s in a very good place in her career, and she says she has a hunger to achieve and create which is motivating her.
“I think I'm better which is nice because usually things deteriorate with age! I think I'm a better writer and I think I'm much more disciplined than I used to be. I've found my process, I've put the hours in. I was much more scattered when I was younger.
"And oddly I feel very driven lately, having not felt it when my kids were just born and little. I think my ambition really waned and now I really feel like it's back, which I'm very pleased about.”
Novartis has launched a free online AMD Symptom Checker to help people identify the symptoms of AMD. To check for symptoms, log on to www.amd.ie O’Kane will perform the final date of her current tour in Ratoath, Co Meath, on October 5th.